Doug Polk explains truth behind Phil Hellmuth’s heads-up challenge offer

Jon Sofen
Published by:
Posted on 02/12/2021

Did Phil Hellmuth really challenge Doug Polk to a heads-up poker competition? It appears he did, but he may have mislead his fans. That is, of course, assuming you believe Polk’s story.

So this controversial story begins with Hellmuth criticizing Daniel Negreanu’s play in his match against Polk. Negreanu lost just over $1.2 million in 25,000 hands at $200/$400 stakes, and the “Poker Brat” seems to think that was unacceptable, even against a great heads-up player.

In that same video, which aired on PokerGO’s new show No Gamble No Future, the 15-time WSOP bracelet winner moved on from Negreanu to a claim about how he challenged Polk via text message to a heads-up match. He didn’t go into details about it but made it seem like Polk backed down from the offer.

Polk, however, tells a different story. Although he admits Hellmuth did challenge him to some heads-up poker, he was presented with a ridiculous offer.

“Also to be clear, @phil_hellmuth said he would play me if it was 15k hands, he got 10 to 1 odds, and we would have to 1 table the entire match,” Doug Polk claimed on Twitter.

Is he out of his mind?

If true, the offer was silly and Hellmuth knows it. No poker pro is going to give up 10-1 odds even to a lousy opponent. And 15,000 hands is a bit light when it comes to heads-up no-limit hold’em challenges. Polk and Negreanu played 25,000 hands, and the Galfond Challenge matches have all been 25,000 hands or more.

The reason the top pros want to play a larger sample size is because doing so eliminates much of the variance, and skill becomes the biggest factor in the outcome.

Hellmuth claims he’s won 29 of 30 heads-up matches, which may be true. But he’s being a bit misleading when he makes that claim. The matches he plays are all small sample sizes, 200 or fewer hands, much like his three games against Antonio Esfandiari, in which he won all of them. Winning a heads-up match over such a small sample size proves virtually nothing, as luck is often the biggest contributing factor in the short-term in this game.

If Hellmuth is truly serious about playing Doug Polk heads-up, and is willing to present a reasonable offer, he may want to brush up on Poker.org’s poker hands ranking chart before he begins play. Otherwise, he’ll be facing some improbable odds.

With that said, even if Hellmuth makes a reasonable offer, Polk may not accept. The Upswing Poker founder recently said he doesn’t enjoy playing poker and was burnt out from his match against Negreanu. He’s said that in the past and retired for over a year before coming out of retirement to face Negreanu. But it appears his playing days are finished, at least for the time being.

Or, perhaps he’ll see an opportunity to crush poker legend Phil Hellmuth and won’t be able to resist.

Featured image source: Flickr